From Oscar Wilde's obituary notice of Amy Levy:
"Miss Levy's novels The Romance of a Shop and Reuben Sachs were both published last year . The first is a bright and clever story, full of sparkling touches; the second is a novel that probably no other writer could have produced. Its directness, its uncompromising truths, its depth of feeling, and above all, its absence of any single superfluous word, make it, in some sort, a classic. . . . To write thus at six-and-twenty is given to very few."
Amy Levy was a talented Anglo-Jewish writer who committed suicide at the age of 28 in 1889. During her brief career she published essays, short stories, three novels, and three collections of poetry, but none of them is in print today and her works are to be found almost solely in the closed stacks and rare book collections of university libraries.
To correct this unavailability and set the stage for a generous selection of her work, Melvyn New introduces Amy Levy as an unmarried Victorian woman and an urban intellectual, disillusioned by the mores of her culture, yet unable to abandon her identification with the English Jews who embodied so much of what she scorned. He reconstructs her world in 1880s England--a time when the president of the British Medical Association warned his colleagues that educated women would become "more or less sexless. . . . [Such women] have highly developed brains but most of them die young"--raising questions that lead to the tortured heart and mind of this "found" writer.
Of the novels, Reuben Sachs, which generated strong negative feelings in London's Jewish community, is considered one of the first realistic examinations of assimilated Jewry in 19th-century England. The Romance of a Shop looks at working women in late Victorian society and offers a glimpse at the bohemian world of artists. The shorter fiction ranges from a story about an Anglo-Jewish Cambridge student (who commits suicide) to the portrait of a woman turned bitter and cynical by the courtship rituals of the age. The selection of nearly 50 poems includes her powerful dramatic monologue "Xantippe," in which Socrates' "shrewish" wife explains the world from her own perspective. The essays include a blistering attack on the pomposities of Henry James and his circle and sketches on "Jewish Children," "Jewish Humor," "Jewish Middle-Class Women," and "Women's Clubs in London."
Melvyn New, professor of English and former chair of the English Department at the University of Florida, is the author of Telling New Lies: Seven Essays in Fiction, Past and Present (UPF, 1992), Laurence Sterne as Satirist: A Reading of "Tristram Shandy" (1969), and the general editor of The Florida Edition of the Works of Laurence Sterne (Tristram Shandy and its annotation, vols. 1-3, UPF, 1978-84).
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